Jenny Oyallon-Koloski

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Still from Peau d'âne

I am currently an Assisant Professor of Media and Cinema Studies in the College of Media at the Univeristy of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I have taught hundreds of students the intricacies of film history, style, and media production. I'm also a researcher interested in American and French cinema, the musical genre, dance in film, animation, VFX, the Harry Potter film franchise, and more.

For more information on what I do, you can read my full CV here.

Meaning in Motion: Choreography and storytelling in the film musical

My current book project illuminates the ways filmmakers have harnessed the narrative power of cinematic choreography—the organized interaction of dance and figure movement with the medium of film—to guide viewer attention and play with expectations of the musical genre.

To conduct these lines of inquiry, I articulate an interdisciplinary methodology that draws on frameworks from poetics approaches to studying film form, the rigorous movement taxonomy from Laban/Bartenieff Movement Studies, and a more granular categorization of the various ways that musical numbers refract the formal conventions established by the filmic diegesis. The human body does much of the narrative heavy lifting in musicals through the communicative power of implicit meaning, particularly when filmmakers deliberately choreograph cinematographic elements to complement actors’ movement. Even moreso than characters’ speaking shifting to singing, the convention of figure movement shifting to dancing in defiance of diegetic norms provides an aesthetic playground for filmmakers to toy with audience expectations and build the rich perceptual and aesthetic pleasure the musical engenders.

The five case studies for this book are films produced in Hollywood and France, ones made after the studio era and created by filmmakers who were predominantly new to the production of film musicals. Meaning in Motion puts the films from these cinematic traditions in conversation with one another to reveal how each film’s mode of production profoundly differed and how the resulting aesthetic, technological, economic, and social constraints shaped each filmmaker’s formal approach to the musical genre.

How did Jerome Robbins, a seasoned stage director-choreographer but new to the filmic medium, translate the musical dance numbers in West Side Story (1961) for the screen? What choices did Jacques Demy make in 1967 to use choreographed figure movement in Les Demoiselles de Rochefort in an industrial context that was ill-prepared to support such a production? How had French film and dance culture changed by 1988 when Demy made his final sung-and-danced musical, Trois places pour le 26? What prompted Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau to incorporate experimental dance styles in their tragic musical Jeanne et le garçon formidable (1998)? And how did technological availability and industrial limitations affect Damien Chazelle’s decision in 2016 to make La La Land’s Los Angeles setting a character that shifts in and out of musical numbers alongside its singing and dancing protagonists? My analysis of these musicals demonstrates the crucial—though often unperceived—functions dance and figure movement serve in guiding the film viewer to comprehend narrative meaning.